Southern cross, p.24
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       Southern Cross, p.24
 

           Patricia Cornwell

  'I think we need to put things in perspective,' Hammer announced.

  'I think there's exactly why we're doing it,' Ehrhart answered her.

  'The point is not our reverence of monuments and a historic cemetery,' Hammer said, knowing she was venturing into an Indian burial ground.

  'It's not a matter of reverence but of a far-stretching perception,' Ehrhart butted in. 'Hollywood Cemetery is a symbolism of the prospering advancement of culture that midway in the middle of the nineteenth century catapulted our marveling city into the twenty-fifth bigger of the others in America.'

  'Anybody know how many big cities there were back then?' challenged Reverend Jackson.

  'Anybody know what she just said?' Mayor Lamb whispered in Hammer's ear.

  'At least thirty-five,' offered publisher Eaton.

  'Closer to forty. South Dakota entered the union in 1859,' Lieutenant Governor Miller quietly corrected the mayor.

  'I'd like to finish what I was saying,' Hammer pushed forward. 'The important point is that a painted statue is not the worst crime that's ever happened here.' She looked pointedly at Ehrhart. 'It might be a better idea to focus on gangs and escalating juvenile crime, and on the community's refusal to participate in protecting and taking care of itself. Which is what brought me here to begin with."

  'Why did you thinking were in here there morning if not to participate?' Ehrhart said with emotion. 'And for the records, it's never been my believe we needed Charlotte to telling us how to ruin our police department and our city.'

  'Well, they're sure as hell running things a whole lot better than we are,' commented NationsBank president Albright, who had worked out of the headquarters in Charlotte before transferring to Richmond.

  'We're not here today to talk about Charlotte,' the mayor said irritably.

  'Nothing wrong with learning from somebody else,' said the lieutenant governor.

  'I suggest the Blue Ribbon Crime Commission pave the way, Lelia,' Hammer said to Ehrhart, who was looking at her gold and diamond Rolex watch and getting anxious. 'You're in a strong position to mobilize citizens and state and city officials. You have a voice.'

  'It's the responsible police, not the citizens what do away with crime. You already know the commission's subscription. We need to hire another additional more one hundred officers. We need more patrols on feet. Police officers should be forced even if they don't want to, to live with the city and carry there police cars home so there's more in our neighborhoods to be visible."

  'Who's going to pay for all that?' the mayor wanted to know. 'You never have explained that part, Lelia.'

  Hammer's flip phone vibrated. She absented herself from the gathering umbrage at the conference table and went out the door.

  'Chief?' West's voice came over the cell.

  'Now's not a good time,' Hammer said.

  'I'm at 6807 Midlothian Turnpike,' West said. 'I think you'd better come.'

  The handcuffs around Bubba's wrists had been snapped on with contempt and no nonsense. Steel teeth bit into his soft flesh. The air conditioning inside the patrol car was up too high and Bubba's cranky bowel syndrome had rumbled out of remission.

  Bubba had always known it was risky to tuck his Anaconda .44 under the seat, but he had never imagined he might get into this much trouble. Police were everywhere, some of them detectives. Moments ago, two fire trucks and an ambulance had screamed past, heading around to the back of Kmart. The media was rolling in and a helicopter was circling the area.

  Officer Budget was standing outside the car talking to the woman deputy chief who had come to Bubba's house after the break-in. He recalled her name was West. She kept glancing in at Bubba, her face hard, eyes sharp with anger that Bubba was certain was directed at him, although he didn't know why. He didn't understand why the cops had wanted his filthy tee shirt.

  No one would tell him anything except that he had committed a class one misdemeanor by concealing a weapon from common view, a weapon that Budget had freed from beneath the seat and checked to see how many cartridges were inside the cylinder. With growing panic Bubba watched a tow truck turn off Midlothian Turnpike and park beside his Jeep.

  Bubba tapped his manacled hands against his window. Budget glared in at him. West stopped talking. Bubba tapped again. Budget opened the front passenger's door and leaned inside the car.

  'What?' Budget asked in a most unfriendly way.

  'I need to use the bathroom.' Bubba lowered his voice because he didn't want West to hear.

  'Yeah, yeah,' Budget said with no compassion.

  'I can't wait,' Bubba told him quietly.

  'You're gonna have to.'

  'Can't.' Bubba gritted his teeth, pressing his buttocks together tightly.

  'Too bad.' Budget shut the door.

  Hammer rolled up in her midnight-blue Crown Victoria as a detective and two crime-scene technicians searched for evidence. The twenty-four-hour money stop had been cordoned off with yellow tape, and two more officers were standing sentry around a red Jeep Cherokee. West and another officer were talking by a patrol car, a suspect in back.

  Hammer parked and got out as a blue medical examiner's van turned off Midlothian Turnpike and drove slowly through the Kmart parking lot, heading to the crime scene.

  'Chief.' Budget greeted Hammer.

  'What's going on?' Hammer asked West.

  'We've got a white female shot in the head behind the Kmart, found at 0832 hours inside her vehicle, a baby in the back seat, strapped in a car seat.'

  'God,' Hammer said. 'The baby all right?'

  'Screaming, seems feverish,' West replied.

  'How young?' Hammer asked.

  She stared through the patrol car window at the suspect, a white man with thinning brown hair and a pudgy, flushed face. She thought he looked rather ill.

  'I'd say less than a year old,' Budget replied. 'Child Protective Services just removed her from the scene, taking her to Chippenham Hospital to make sure she's okay while we try to find next of kin.'

  'We might have a lead on that,' West said. 'There was a note in the victim's purse. Possibly written by the mother. Something about the baby's doctor whose office might be on Pump Road. The note refers to a sick baby named 'Loraine'. We're also making arrangements for temporary foster care, which we hope we won't need.'

  Hammer stared at the red Jeep, noting the Confederate flag bumper sticker. She noted the BUB-AH vanity plate. She took a closer look at the suspect. He was shirtless and wearing camouflage pants.

  'What's the victim's name?' Hammer asked.

  Budget flipped back pages of his notepad.

  'Ruby Sink,' he said. 'Seventy-two years old with a Church Hill address.'

  'Miss Sink?' Hammer interrupted in horror. 'Oh my God! She's one of my neighbors. I can't believe it.'

  'You knew her?' Budget was startled.

  'Not well. Dear God! She's on the Hollywood Cemetery board of directors. I just talked to her.'

  'Christ!' West said, throwing Bubba a killing look.

  'Another ATM?' Hammer asked as a terrible darkness settled over her.

  'We know she withdrew two hundred dollars at 0802 hours,' Budget answered. 'We found the receipt. The cash is gone.'

  Pieces were fitting together, although not without a little forcing. Hammer recalled the fragmented cell phone conversation between two men named Bubba and Smudge. They were planning to rob and murder a woman. The name Loraine and something about pumps were in the mix. Hammer had supposed their intended victim was black. But perhaps she had misunderstood. Hammer stared at the suspect again.

  'Tell me about him,' she said.

  'Butner Fluck the fourth, but goes by Bubba,' West replied. 'Oddly enough, Brazil and I responded to a B and E at his house just yesterday. A lot of guns allegedly stolen from his workshop.'

  'Interesting,' Hammer said.

  'Appears he was parked here at the time the homicide occurred,' Budget added.

  'Did he see anything?' Hammer asked.<
br />
  'Says he didn't. I recovered a forty-four Magnum that was concealed under the seat. One of these eight-inch-barrel jobs with a scope. Recently fired, four rounds missing. Plus, I'd stopped him maybe a half hour earlier, pulled him over to the exact spot where his Jeep is now ...'

  'Wait a minute.' Hammer held up her hand. 'Start over.'

  'I know it's rather bizarre,' West tried to clarify. 'But the suspect was driving erratically shortly after seven this morning and Officer Budget pulled him over here, exactly where the Jeep is now. No outstanding warrants, nothing on him. He was charged with reckless driving and released. Less than an hour later, the victim's discovered behind Kmart.'

  'I heard the call over the radio and responded,' Budget explained. 'And there's the same Jeep right where I'd seen it last, the suspect hiding on the floor, the gun in plain view.'

  'So he never moved after you pulled him,' Hammer said. 'The Jeep was right here when the victim was robbed at the money stop and then murdered behind Kmart.'

  'That's how it appears,' West said.

  'What about his demeanor?' Hammer stared at Bubba.

  'Extremely agitated, sweating profusely,' Budget replied. 'He has blood on his tee shirt. We said we'd like to take the shirt to the lab, but he was under no obligation to let us. He was compliant.'

  'Anything else that might link him to the homicide?' Hammer asked.

  'Not so far. Not until we can see if the bullets in the victim were fired from his gun. But it's kind of doubtful, to be honest. The shells we found in the car are nine-millimeter, ejected from a pistol.'

  'This is all very strange,' Hammer said. 'And it sounds like all we've really got on him is a class one misdemeanor.'

  'Yes, ma'am.'

  Hammer stared again at the fat man in the back seat of the cruiser. He stared back at her with exhausted, miserable eyes.

  'Well, it doesn't appear to me that we have probable cause to hold him,' Hammer said with extreme disappointment.

  'We don't,' West agreed. 'But we couldn't be sure of that at first.'

  'It's hard for me to imagine he was sitting here while a woman was robbed and never saw a thing,' Hammer remarked angrily as she thought again of Bubba and Smudge and their broken conversation.

  'Nobody ever sees a thing,' West said.

  chapter twenty-eight

  Governor Mike Feuer was a tall, lanky man in his early sixties, with piercing eyes that burned with compassion and fierce truth. Republicans often compared him to Abraham Lincoln without a beard. Democrats called him The Fuhrer.

  'I understand completely. And of course I'm upset, too,' he was saying into a secure phone in the back of his bulletproof black limousine as he rode through downtown.

  'Governor, have you seen it already yet?' Lelia Ehrhart's voice came over a line that could not be tapped or picked up by cell phones, scanners or CB radios.

  'No.'

  'You must be able to.'

  He sighed, glancing at his watch. Governor Feuer had ten meetings scheduled today. He was supposed to call at least six legislators who were fighting hard for and against House and Senate bills flowing through a typically turgid General Assembly.

  He was supposed to be prepped for an interview with USA Today, sign a proclamation, meet with his cabinet, be briefed by the House Finance Subcommittee and hold two press conferences. It was his mother's eighty-sixth birthday and he had yet to get around to sending flowers. His back was acting up again.

  'If you could just have time to take to drive through and see it for yourself in person, Governor,' said Ehrhart. 'I think you'll be shocking, and if you aren't taking a look today, it's a risk because it has eventually to be removed at some point to be restored. It won't do any good at the most if you are looking later, because by then it will be original again.'

  'Then the damage must not be too extensive,' he replied reasonably as plainclothes Executive Protection Unit state police officers rode in unmarked Chevrolet Caprices in front of his limousine and behind it.

  'It's the action of it that matters, Governor,' she went on in her unique accent.

  Governor Feuer imagined her on the floor as a child, laboring over building blocks that she could not quite get in the right order.

  The vile deliberation of it,' she was saying.

  'Frankly, I'm more concerned with ..."

  'Please take a minutes. And I wasn't intentioned to interrupt.'

  She did mean to, but the governor let it pass because he was a secure, fair man. He believed in second chances. Lelia Ehrhart was entitled to one more this day before he hung up on her.

  'Of course, the cemetery's closed and won't be opening to the public this minutes,' Ehrhart said. 'But I'll make sure it's unlocked isn't hooked for you to get in.'

  The governor pressed the intercom button.

  'Jed?'

  'Yes, sir,' Jed replied from the other side of the glass partition, his attentive eyes in the rearview mirror.

  'We need to swing over to Hollywood Cemetery.' Governor Feuer glanced at his watch again. 'We'll have to make it quick.'

  'Whatever you say, sir.'

  'Lelia,' the governor said into the phone. 'Consider it done.'

  'Oh, you're so wonderful!'

  'I'm not, really,' he replied wearily as he thought of his mother's birthday again.

  Lelia Ehrhart returned the portable phone to its charger inside her completely equipped gym on the third floor of her brick mansion behind wrought-iron gates on West Gary Street. Her brow was damp, her arms quivering from working latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, trapezius, triceps, deltoids and pectoralis on the incline, chest and shoulder presses, and the lat pulldown, and the low row, just before the governor had returned her phone call.

  'When now?' she cheerfully asked her trainer, Lonnie Fort.

  'Seated row,' he said.

  'No most rowing. I simply can never.' She sipped Evian and dabbed her face with a towel. 'I think we've got to all those muscles, Lonnie. I really don't like working it out this early, anyway. My entire system's in the state of shock. It's like getting out of bed and jumping on the Arctic Ocean. And I'm not a little bit penguin,' she said in a cute voice. 'Nothing cold-natured with me.'

  'I'm sorry we had to meet so early, Mrs. Ehrhart.'

  'Not your fault, not in the smallest. I forgot you had a damn dental appointed.'

  Lonnie studied the circuit Ehrhart was supposed to complete this morning, recording the number of reps and their weights.

  'Thanks for fitting me on,' she said. 'But it wasn't very nice that Bull to scheduled you at the same time of nine A.M. in the morning when we always do this. Of course, he has so much people working for him. He probably knew nothing to remember about it since others always do for him so he doesn't.'

  'I'm sure you're right, Mrs. Ehrhart.'

  The son of a bitch. She thought of her wealthy dentist husband with all his radio ads and strip mall offices and sycophantic employees. He'd had affairs with three dental hygienists that she knew of, and although the number most likely far exceeded that, what difference did it make? Lelia Ehrhart would never forgive him for the first one.

  'So tell to me, Lonnie, will Bull go to crown all your teeths like he does all everybody else's?' Ehrhart asked her trainer, who was so beautifully constructed she wanted to trace her fingers and tongue over every inch of him.

  'He says he can give me a Hollywood smile,' Lonnie answered.

  'Ha! He says this always to everyone.'

  'I don't know. His hygienists sure have pretty smiles. They told me he crowned all their teeth.'

  Just the word hygienist pierced Ehrhart like a foil.

  'But I don't know,' Lonnie said again.

  'Don't do it! No!' Ehrhart told him. 'One time it's done there's no to undone it and it's permanently. Bull's grinded up all the teeths in the city, Lonnie.'

  'Well, he's sure made a good living,' said Lonnie.

  He attached the short extension cable to the lower pulley of the Trotter MG2100 tota
l fitness machine. He attached the revolving straight bar, his sculpted muscles sliding and bunching beneath smooth, tan skin.

  'You'll end up with at the end with all this little nibs, looking like a man-eating cannibals. You'll get TMJ and lisps when you talk and end up with several roots canals,' the dentist's wife warned him. 'Your teeths are so beauty!'

  'I have this space between my two front ones.' He showed her.

  'They're perfect! Some peoples think space is really sexual.'

  'You're kidding?' He looked at his teeth in one of the many wall-size mirrors.

  'Oh no, I'm never.'

  She looked intensely at his mouth and was enraged that she'd ever let her husband talk her into crowning all her teeth. She felt ruined. The crowns weren't as natural as the teeth he'd ground away, and she got frequent headaches and had pressure and temperature sensitivity in three molars. Lelia Ehrhart envied natural teeth, even if they weren't perfect. She envied beautiful bodies. She was obsessed with both and would never have either.

  'Arm curls.' Lonnie got back to business, holding the bar in both hands to demonstrate.

  'My arms are shaken,' she complained with a flirty porcelain smile. 'You need to show me another again one more time. I never can get these one right. I always feel them behind my back and I know that's not supposedly to be.'

  He moved the pin to one hundred and fifty pounds and demonstrated, his biceps bunching like huge swells in an ocean, a gathered energy capable of great force, a slope for her to climb and conquer.

  'Lift just with your arms,' he said. 'Don't lean back. You use your back, you're cheating.'

  He lowered the weight to twenty pounds. Ehrhart took the bar and held it shoulder-width apart with an underhand grip, palms facing up, elbows close to her sides, just as she had been taught. She eyed her form in mirrors, not sure her blue Nike tights had been a good choice. The red stripes emphasized her wide hips. When all was said and done, black was always best for lower body, bright colors for upper, such as the chartreuse sports bra she had on today.

  'Twenty reps,' Lonnie told her.

 
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